NE media caught between militants and the ‘deep state’

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GUWAHATI, June 17: The killing of Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari may have highlighted the dangers journalists in Kashmir face but those in insurgency-hit Northeast have had to endure threats, intimidation and violent attacks since decades.
The challenge media houses here face, particularly in Nagaland and Manipur, is not only from militant groups who want journalists to tow their line but also from security forces and the deep state, blamed for many inexplicable disappearances.
In the bargain, truth is often suppressed as few dare to write about issues that can be unpleasant to the insurgents and the security establishment.
In 2015, three of Nagaland’s top newspapers, The Morung Express, Eastern Mirror and the Nagaland Page, ran blank edit pages to protest against a directive from Assam Rifles IG to stop covering the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang).
The letter from the Assam Rifles stated: “It is reiterated that any article which projects the demands of NSCN (K) and gives it publicity is a violation under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, and should not be published by your newspaper.”
Media houses in Manipur have also had to take recourse to similar protests on several
occasions. In 2016, all newspapers in the state published blank editorial pages in protest against a hand grenade being found at the gates of a daily in Imphal.
The police said the Chinese-made grenade was suspected to be left behind by the banned Kangleipak Communist party. The suspected militants left a note that read: “It is a new year gift to the paper of Manipur.”
One of the biggest challenges before journalists in Manipur is Press releases issued by militant groups. Someone unknown will quietly leave an envelope containing the release to newspaper offices with a diktat to publish it or face the consequences.
The intelligence agencies and their invisible informers often get to know that a press release has been issued and they immediately threaten media houses with arrest and penal action if they publish the statement.
“We are caught between the devil and the deep sea. If we publish the press release we get victimised by the police and if we don’t the militants come after us,” said an editor of an English newspaper in Imphal.
“It is a double whammy in Manipur. Journalists face threats from underground elements as well as security forces. During the time of fake encounter killings, you never knew who was hitting you. So, that was a problem,” said Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of the Imphal Free Press.
In Tripura last year, journalist Sudip Datta Bhowmik was reportedly killed inside the battalion headquarters of the Tripura State Rifles. Also, Santanu Bhowmick was killed when he went to cover an agitation by the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura.
In Nagaland, several insurgent organisations run parallel governments. The NSCN-IM’s ‘government’ is called the Government of the People’s Republic of Nagaland/Nagalim. Many such “governments” even generate revenue by indulging in illegal activities – from smuggling of marijuana, drugs and illegal weapons to extortions.
But nobody resists as resistance can invite death. And the media, despite being purview to these illegal activities, rarely speaks out. “The media is nowhere. In Nagaland, no media has ever said anything very strong about the extremists,” said a senior journalist.
Senior journalist Nishit Dholabhai said understanding and being sensitive to diversity and ethnic sensitivities besides the multiple armed groups will remain a challenge for journalists in the Northeast. (NIE)